New federal inspection rules will allow pork slaughterhouses to run lines faster and decrease the number and roles of USDA inspectors.
The changes, long sought by meatpackers, establish industrywide a program that has been running on a pilot basis at five plants since 1997. Speed limits, currently 1,106 hogs per hour, will be lifted as long as a plant has an adequate system in place for monitoring microbial and other risks. Plant personnel will be allowed to conduct manual sorting of carcasses and parts with visible defects, a task that is ordinarily done by inspectors for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.
FSIS inspectors will still examine live animals and whole carcasses. All hog slaughter plants, regardless of whether they take advantage of the higher speeds allowed, will be required to establish enhanced microbial testing and other safety procedures. The rule is schduled to take effect in two months.
Industry groups, including the North American Meat Institute and the National Pork Producers Council, hailed the new rule, but consumer and labor advocacy groups denounced it as potentially dangerous for workers and consumers.